Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Secondary snapshot: The path to starting for Josh Robinson, Robert Blanton

Posted by: Updated: April 20, 2013 - 7:58 AM
As the NFL Draft approaches, the Access Vikings team is taking a position-by-position look at what will be available, offering insight and analysis on top draft prospects both through print and via daily “Access Vikings: The Show” videos. In addition, here on the blog, we’ll give you a brief review of how the Vikings are set up at each position heading into the draft.
Today’s snapshot: Defensive backs
Current starters: Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford
Reserves under contract: Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels, Bobby Felder, Greg McCoy, Andrew Sendejo, Nick Taylor, Roderick Williams
Biggest offseason move: The Vikings’ surprise move to cut Antoine Winfield in the hour before free agency began may have been a calculated gamble that backfired badly. Yes, clearing Winfield’s $7.25 million salary for 2013 off the books was a move that better positioned the front office to attack their free agent signings the way they so desired. But it seems as if the “purely business” approach used by General Manager Rick Spielman to release Winfield didn’t sit well with the veteran cornerback himself. Winfield didn’t like the timing of the move, felt he deserved better after nine splendid seasons here and was puzzled that the Vikings did not approach his agent with any sort of proposal for a potential restructuring. The Vikings may have hoped they could easily re-sign Winfield once he saw what the open market had to offer. But ultimately Winfield opted to sign a one-year deal with the Seahawks worth up to $3 million. The Vikings were offering a comparable contract, willing to give Winfield a two-year, $6 million deal. But Winfield decided he was ready to move on.
Sure, the Vikings’ plan was to transition Winfield into a full-time role as a nickelback. And paying $7.25 million seemed steep for a part-time player. But keep in mind, in today’s pass-happy NFL and especially in the NFC North, Winfield still would have been on the field the majority of the time as the team’s top slot corner. Plus, he had been due to make only $3 million in 2013 before playing more than 80 percent of the defensive snaps in 2012 and triggering an escalator that pushed his salary up to $7.25 million. So it wasn’t as if Winfield hadn’t earned his way up to the price tag that the Vikings didn’t want to pay.
Regardless, with his exit, the Vikings’ have major needs at cornerback and will have to turn to the draft to address them.
Level of draft need for cornerbacks: High. Winfield’s exit – released on March 12, signed by Seattle on April 12 – may have made cornerback the position of highest priority for the Vikings heading into the draft. At present, their top three corners are Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson with little quality depth beyond that.
Level of draft need for safeties: Low. While there may again be a startling lack of depth at corner, the Vikings feel they have a full stable of potential playmakers at safety. Harrison Smith is the headliner of the unit while Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton all have promise in their own ways.
You should know: After an incredibly impressive 2012, Sanford has earned the right to remain the Vikings’ second starting safety heading into training camp. After losing his starting job to Raymond in Mankato last year, Sanford never sulked and found his way back into the mix in late-September when Raymond suffered a dislocated ankle that kept him out for six games. Even upon Raymond’s November return, Sanford remained the starter. And while sharing the workload with Raymond late in the season, he continued to show marked growth. Sanford’s energy is contagious and he continues to draw praise as a guy who embodies the unselfishness, toughness and passion that Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is looking to build around.
But … (And you knew a but was coming right?) While Sanford may start training camp as the designated starter, he doesn’t have a stranglehold on that role. Far from it.
Frazier understands Sanford is a special teams ace and may be at his most valuable overall if allowed to concentrate more on that role. Plus, there are not only high hopes for Raymond as a guy who has more promise in coverage, but it’s not unforeseeable that Blanton could take a huge leap forward and perhaps end up starting alongside Smith before this year is over.
Blanton pressed through a conversion from cornerback to safety last year but also impressed the coaching staff with his ability to quickly pick things up.
“As the year went on, he made strides understanding space and angles from the safety position,” Frazier said. “And he plays with a high motor. He plays 100 miles per hour at all times. But he's a pretty smart, athletic guy. So, he gives us hope that he's going to give us something back there with his ball skills as well to help us to get those turnovers that we're always talking about.”
With Raymond out with that ankle injury and Smith ejected early from the Vikings’ Week 5 home win over Tennessee, Blanton saw extensive action alongside Sanford and played well.
"It was [significant]," Frazier said. "When you consider how little time he had had at the position and to go out there and play as well as he did, that was encouraging. That kind of opened all of our eyes up that, 'Hey, this guy, he has a chance when given the opportunity."
One more thing: Even before Winfield’s departure, the expectation was that second-year DB Josh Robinson would earn and keep the second starting spot at cornerback opposite Chris Cook. Robinson had bouts of inconsistency throughout his rookie season last year and was barely on the field in the final weeks as the Vikings looked for more reliable options to complete their playoff push. But there’s every expectation inside the organization that Robinson will return for 2013 more confident and better positioned for a true breakthrough.
“He needs to win that starting job to make us a better team,” Frazier said.
Frazier knows Robinson has rare athleticism. He also realized Robinson was only 21 years old last season after entering the NFL after his junior season at Central Florida.
Still, there were plenty of eye-catching moments delivered, none more memorable to Frazier than the nifty interception and 44-yard return Robinson delivered in the first quarter of a 21-14 Week 14 win over Chicago.
“When he made that catch, the ball was away from him. It could’ve been a drop easily,” Frazier said. “He makes that grab and has the awareness to take it down the sideline and almost scored. When you see plays like that, you know there is something there that every guy doesn’t have that plays that position. And that lets you know if you can develop some consistency, you’ve got a chance to develop a very, very good player. He’s as fast as anybody in our league. But then to see the eye-hand coordination and the ability to be able to make those types of plays, that’s big.”
 
 
 
 
 

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Minnesota 16 FINAL
Buffalo 17
Atlanta 7 FINAL
Baltimore 29
Tennessee 17 FINAL
Washington 19
Seattle 26 FINAL
St. Louis 28
Cleveland 6 FINAL
Jacksonville 24
Cincinnati 0 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Miami 27 FINAL
Chicago 14
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Detroit 24
Carolina 17 FINAL
Green Bay 38
Kansas City 23 FINAL
San Diego 20
Arizona 24 FINAL
Oakland 13
NY Giants 21 FINAL
Dallas 31
San Francisco 17 FINAL
Denver 42
Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Boston 95 FINAL
Brooklyn 90
Minnesota 112 FINAL
Oklahoma City 94
Golden State 83 FINAL
Houston 90
Charlotte 96 FINAL
Chicago 101
Utah 91 FINAL
LA Lakers 98
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
San Jose 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Calgary 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
St. Louis 0 FINAL
Anaheim 3
TX-San Antonio 20 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 27
Syracuse 30 FINAL
Wake Forest 7
Purdue 38 FINAL
Minnesota 39
Western Ky 38 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 45
(12) Baylor 27 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 41
(11) Kansas State 31 FINAL
(17) Oklahoma 30
Iowa 31 FINAL
Maryland 38
So Florida 38 FINAL
Tulsa 30
Tulane 13 FINAL
UCF 20
Virginia 13 FINAL
Duke 20
Akron 20 FINAL
Ohio U 23
Western Mich 26 FINAL
Bowling Green 14
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
Massachusetts 36
Appalachian St 53 FINAL
Troy 14
(25) UCLA 36 FINAL
California 34
Texas A&M 0 FINAL
(4) Alabama 59
Army 17 FINAL
Kent State 39
Kansas 21 FINAL
Texas Tech 34
UAB 22 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 34
Rutgers 17 FINAL
(13) Ohio State 56
(8) Michigan State 56 FINAL
Indiana 17
New Mexico 31 FINAL
Air Force 35
NC State 18 FINAL
Louisville 30
(21) Clemson 17 FINAL
Boston College 13
Ball State 32 FINAL
Central Mich 29
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
SMU 3
(9) Georgia 45 FINAL
Arkansas 32
Oklahoma State 9 FINAL
(10) TCU 42
San Jose St 27 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Miami-Ohio 41 FINAL
Northern Ill 51
New Mexico St 17 FINAL
Idaho 29
Colorado 28 FINAL
(20) USC 56
(23) Marshall 45 FINAL
FIU 13
Southern Miss 30 FINAL
North Texas 20
Georgia Tech 43 FINAL
North Carolina 48
Tennessee 3 FINAL
(3) Ole Miss 34
Utah State 13 FINAL
Colorado State 16
Missouri 42 FINAL
Florida 13
Kentucky 3 FINAL
(24) LSU 41
(16) Nebraska 38 FINAL
Northwestern 17
Georgia State 27 FINAL
South Alabama 30
Washington 20 FINAL
(6) Oregon 45
Iowa State 45 FINAL
Texas 48
(7) Notre Dame 27 FINAL
(2) Florida State 31
Nevada 42 FINAL
BYU 35
Stanford 10 FINAL
(14) Arizona State 26
Hawaii 10 FINAL
San Diego St 20
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Columbus 3 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19

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